SUB-GENRES: Action / Adventure
DIRECTED BY: George Lucas
WRITTEN BY: George Lucas
PEW PEW: While the feel of the original trilogy is gone, and the politics detracts from the immediacy of the action, The Phantom Menace has its fair share of excitement. The series positively glows with, and is perhaps the greatest example of pure ‘pew pew!’
CAT FOOD: Beginning with this film, Lucas attempts to reflect on the corruption of the human heart and the fallibility of political ideologies. At times it resonates well, other times it’s a little weak. The series is still more about its action and excitement than it is about social commentary.
At last we come to the prequel trilogy, the three Star Wars films that explore the background hinted at in the original trilogy (1977 – 1983), and the origin of its villain Darth Vader. Love them or hate them, the prequel trilogy films changed the saga completely, in both good ways and bad.
In 1999, expectations were high for the first proper Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. The pressure was on George Lucas to deliver something brand new for fans of his saga, as well as something that embraced the epic awesomeness of the original three pictures. While The Phantom Menace did bring something new to the series, it fell far from the mark on delivering the same greatness as the previous films.
We begin the film on a space station orbiting the planet Naboo, where two Jedi Knights are sent to negotiate a treaty that would end a Trade Federation blockade of said planet. Well, right away the film is too complex and political for the Star Wars feel, and we don’t have an identifiable farm boy to help guide us this time round. The old Star Wars feel falls apart pretty much as fast as the negotiations with the Trade Federation.
The Jedi (a very young Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master Qui-Gon Jinn) escape to the surface of Naboo, where a massive droid army is poised to invade the helpless human capital city of Theed. Once grounded, they enlist the help of an amphibious outcast, Jar Jar Binks, and Amidala, Queen of the Naboo, to get their and the Queen’s asses off the planet and away from the Trade Federation.
Hiding out on a desert planet that is quite familiar to those of us who have seen the original trilogy, the Jedi and the Queen’s handmaiden Padme discover a helpful slave boy name Anakin Skywalker. It is hinted in a very awkward and forced-feeling scene that Anakin has the hots for Padme (the actors being ten and seventeen makes this seem extra awkward) and next thing we know, we’re at his house, he’s being recruited to join the Jedi Order, and– oh yeah, first there are nine and a half hours of the fucking mindless pod racing that has to happen in order for them all to get the hell out of there.
When they do get off the planet, we’re subjected to political debate as the senate decides what to do about Naboo. I like politics, but it has no place in this kind of film. Jar Jar Binks is often targeted and derided for being the most annoying thing in Star Wars. I actually really like the character. Although his humour is poorly written in this film, his comedic potential is grasped in the second Clone Wars television series. I think people need to stop hating Jar Jar and recognise the slew of other problems this film presents. Worst of them all is the goddamn West Wing politics shit we’re subjected to over and over again.
So Amidala reads my thoughts and decides this senate garbage is for the birds — we all go back to Naboo to organise a battle between the Jar Jar’s gungans and the less than impressive droid army. As beautifully menacing as the Galactic Empire was from the original trilogy, I can scarcely believe how lame the Trade Federation is here.
The one thing this film does have going for it are its enigmatic villains, Darth Sidious and the savagely well-designed Darth Maul. While Maul isn’t quite used to his potential (the character returns in The Clone Wars) he is quite a presence. The Duel of the Fates, the thrilling lightsaber battle between Maul, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon is one of the best lightsaber battles we get to see in the Star Wars films. Furious and well-choreographed lightsaber duels would go on to become the prequel trilogy’s great strength.
Also, keep an eye out for a very young Keira Knightley as Amidala when she and Natalie Portman’s Padme are in the same frame.
With few redeeming qualities, The Phantom Menace is quite lame, and I think we all left the theatre more than a little let down. I get it, it was a new film aimed at a new generation, but there didn’t seem like there was much in it for original fans. Thankfully, the pre-Galactic Empire saga would eventually develop its own feel, which I can appreciate for its character drama and its classic conflicts. It would best of all spawn the Clone Wars series, which I am mostly in love with.
But this film alone is mostly unsalvageable.